Survival Shows: What’s the big draw?


Bear Grylls

I love survival shows. Whether watching Bear Grylls wriggle into a wetsuit fashioned from seal skin, Les Stroud survive with no food, water, shelter, or camera crew, or the new duo on the scene, Dave and Cody suck water from their own socks in the Rockies, I flip on one of these programs and quickly become engrossed. This is pure entertainment. Or is it?

While I love to watch Bear strip to his skivvys and swim under a frozen lake as much as the next girl, I have to ask an important question. Who are these survival skills for? Granted there are still a few rare places in the world that these skills might come in handy, truly off-the-grid locales are harder to find. So why are these shows suddenly so popular? Is it to titillate the arm-chair adventurer or merely offer a little eye-candy and drive up ratings for Discovery Channel?

I recently watched Dual Survival, Discovery Channel’s latest reality show pitting man against nature. Two men, Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury, showcase their survival

Dave and Cody

skills in Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains during winter. Dave is an army-trained sniper and scout and Cody never wears shoes or long pants, even when he’s post-holing through thigh deep snow. In this scenario, the two men recreate the skills needed to survive the aftermath of an avalanche with only a nearly empty pack of gear. Dave and Cody  demonstrate how to get out of this “brutal wilderness” with only one pair of snowshoes, one ski pole, a wad of p-cord, one tube of lip balm and a nearly empty book of matches. Granted, the show would have been MUCH more interesting if the two demonstrated how to survive the actual avalanche, but I can imagine that the men weren’t too keen on honing that particular skill, since the chances of surviving a real avalanche are slim.

During their retreat towards civilization, the two create a snow cave for shelter, build a fire to melt snow for drinking and salvage a dead elk for food. For a while the two slog through the snow, using the snowshoes for balance, until they finally decide that one should actually don the snow shoes. Of course, Cody wears only socks and shorts, making the survival situation all the more dire (the temperature is 3 degrees and dropping). He claims he’s “not a normal person.” He strengthens his mitochondria by exposing himself in this manner so that he can “kick ass” in cold temperatures. Whatever. It makes for an interesting show.

Fortunately for them, a camera man was close enough to catch their descent from the site

Cody Lundin

of the avalanche down to a frozen lake, where Dave (I’m not sure how he pulled the short stick on that decision) walks out onto the dangerous lake to post a signal pole, so that rescuers can eventually find them.

Les Stroud

The most authentic of all these shows is Survivorman, where Les Stroud strolls out into inhospitable locales and films his own survival. My favorite episode takes place in the canyons of Utah, where Les makes a primitive mouse trap with a stick and a heavy slab of rock. The tension builds each time he checks his empty trap; the viewer can almost hear his stomach grumbling. Finally, he catches a squirrel and the burnt, sinewy meal made from it looks hideous, but makes the man grin wildly into his own camera.

So I ask you, what’s the point of these shows? Why am I so fascinated by them? I am not actually taking notes for future reference, watching how Les ties the knots around the stick or builds a fire with his flint stick. I’m not really paying such close attention that if caught in the Florida everglades I would actually remember what that awful looking bug that Bear dangled above his mouth before dropping it in and chewing heartily looked like.

Is it just me? Or are you, too, fascinated by this new survival-when-its-least-needed kind of show. This kind of information might have come in handy a century ago, but today, not so much. And yet still, I have a feeling these shows are far more popular today than Boy Scouts ever was.

So what’s the big draw? Am I the only one captivated by these shows, or are you, like me, pretending to amass an arsenal of never-to-be-used techniques of wilderness survival?

7 responses »

  1. HaHa! I have to admit, I’ve never thought about WHERE I would actually use the skills I’m surely learning through osmosis!
    I do love them all. I have to assume when the producers put Cody and Dave together it was more for sparks, since they’re so different, but they’re great guys and they work well together.
    There’s something so intense about watching to see if they’ll make it out, whether it’s Bear, or Les, or Dave and Cody…even though my mind tells me they will somehow figure out how in the next 7 minutes before the show ends.
    I certainly don’t know why I love it, but I do!

  2. Hey Kim!

    If I had a TV I would enjoy those shows I’m sure. I have seen Bear’s show in the past and liked it; very entertaining. I find Survivorman pretty dull (sorry Les) and I don’t think ANY of those shows are “authentic” at all so I don’t worry about that aspect. They all have safety personnel standing by which is just fine by me; it would be dumb to do it any other way.

    To me, the lesson taught by those shows is not so much about the actual survival techniques themselves, but the ability to keep trying different things and to keep doing something, anything, to try to make things better. Unfortunately with the way the shows are presented, that message is pretty consistently lost. I think true survival is something that really isn’t well suited for an entertainment medium; these shows aren’t meant to teach, but the viewing audience assumes they are instructional.

    I, too, enjoyed the naked swimming episode of Man Vs. Wild 😉

  3. I’d venture a guess you’re not the only one drawn to watching extreme nature survival shows. As for the answer to the big draw? It’s pretty simple why. Humans are curious about death. Further more, every human creature person on earth must obtain the basic 4 (water, nutrients, shelter and sleep) to avoid death everyday. Granted you and I, and most people, conquer nature daily in relative luxury so we have forgotten exactly how far from the wild we have been removed. For some, having to walk a mile or go 6 hours without a hearty meal can feel like getting awfully close to death. Fortunately we have HEROES who remind us of how safe we are and what humans are capable of. They bring additional feelings of empowerment and comfort.

    Hope this answer helps and that you too decide to brave the wild someday even if it is just with a tent way out on the front lawn.

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